Colorado shuffles drug money to apply for federal drug prevention grant

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Colorado is hoping to apply for federal matching funds for a program to keep kids off drugs — using money collected from the state’s newly minted recreational marijuana industry.

The fact that marijuana remains as illegal as ever under federal laws hasn’t escaped lawmakers who are proposing the idea, which is why they want to transfer $3.5 million from the state’s marijuana revenue fund into the general fund.

An equal amount from the general fund will then be used to apply for the grant, according to the Associated Press.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Pat Steadman, joked that he called the maneuver “money laundering” and “a little two step” to avoid conflicts with federal policies prohibiting transactions the federal government considers to be illegal.

“We wouldn’t want the tainted money to draw a federal match, now, would we?” Steadman said, in a manner the AP described as sarcastic.

Other lawmakers weren’t laughing.

“Colorado is now becoming basically a cartel, a drug cartel,” Republican state Sen. Kent Lambert told AP. “I don’t know what they’re trying to do. [A]void federal scrutiny? I don’t think you’re going to hide it from the federal government.”

Nevertheless, Lambert voted in favor of the measure.

The AP notes that pot money, in the form of sales tax on medical marijuana, has gone into the general fund for years, and general fund money is routinely credited to federal accounts for various reasons. But this is the first time marijuana revenue has been used to request a dollar-for-dollar match from the federal treasury.

If approved, the  grant would come from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to pay for drug education and drug prevention programs aimed at children.

Steadman said he could think of no reason the request would be denied.

“As long as it is an eligible benefit within the Medicaid program and we’re investing state dollars to expand benefits or expand the scope of our program, that’s eligible for a federal match,” he said. “And apparently we should be doing that with general fund dollars, not marijuana tax fund dollars, although in my estimation, all of those dollars are the same shade of green.”

But at least one other lawmaker doesn’t believe it will go so smoothly.

“We’re going to be picked apart, once this thing becomes public,” Republican Rep. Cheri Gerou told the AP.

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